With around 640 million acres in the bank, the federal government controls about 28 percent of the land in these United States, with the bulk of that lying in the West: Over half the ground in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, and Oregon is under federal oversight. But the president’s new appointee for Bureau of Land Management, the office that oversees most of that property, isn’t too keen on the government’s role in managing land.
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made Wyoming native, attorney, and Reagan administration alum William Perry Pendley the acting director of the BLM. Since serving in the Gipper’s Energy and Interior departments, Pendley has sued Interior on behalf of an oil prospector, tried to slash protections for endangered species — including cutting laws protecting grizzly bears in national parks — and attempted to make it easier to build on federal land.
In addition to his political view on public lands — in 2016, he wrote in the National Review that “[t]he Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold” — Pendley has some personal relationships that add concerns to his nomination. The Washington Post explains:
Pendley’s legal ties, as well as his policy positions, have attracted scrutiny. Environmental groups are pressing Interior to formally recuse Pendley from any involvement in a court case in which he is still the counsel of record representing an aging businessman, Sidney Longwell and his small company Solenex.
Solenex purchased a 6,247-acre lease in northwest Montana in 1982 during the Reagan administration for about $1 an acre. Longwell wants permission to build a six-mile service road and bridge over the Two Medicine River on lands considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe. Interior wants to cancel the lease. He would use the road to bring in drilling rigs and other oil exploration equipment.
“The Department’s career ethics professionals are working closely with Mr. Pendley and will advise him as necessary,” an Interior official said.
Pendley has also blasted former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke for not doing enough to open up public lands to private development. In another article for the National Review published in 2017, Pendley criticized Zinke for not reducing national monuments at the rate he deemed necessary: “Instead of doing as asked [by the Trump administration], Secretary Zinke recommended decreasing the size of only four of the most blatantly illegal national monuments while leaving the boundaries of all the others standing with mollycoddle language, which will soon get stricken by environmentalists.” That Zinke reduced only two national monuments wasn’t enough: Pendley rejected that Zinke proposed to make the Badger-Two Medicine preserve in Montana a national monument, an area Solenex wanted to explore for drilling.
Earlier this week, President Trump nominated John Ratcliffe to become the new director of National Intelligence, despite Ratcliffe’s consistent doubt in the efficacy of the intelligence community’s findings on Russia. That the administration has proposed another nominee to deregulate and dismantle the department he runs should now be expected as the norm.